As a former server, I appreciate good service. In fact, I prize it above all else.
I’ve enjoyed mediocre meals tremendously because someone made me feel welcome and showed their gratitude for my business. And I’ve found myself irritated and even angry to be served excellent food, but to be treated as if I was lucky I was allowed to set foot in the premises.
However true it might be that I am lucky to have dined in some of these places, service is the most important element in any dining experience for me. Wonderful food cannot make up for poor, even disrespectful, service.
I’d wager it is the same for most of you. Restaurant meals are expensive enough that the host, manager or proprietor ought to give us a hug when we enter the place and pat us on the back when we leave, with a cheery “thanks” as a minimum.
Restaurateurs spend their days so consumed with the endless detail of the business — cleaning lampshades, making sure light bulbs are all working, wiping down vases or shutters, seeing that food and drink is adequately stocked, making certain that the employees are present, properly dressed (and sober) — so many details that they seem to lose sight of the most important element: making customers happy.
Restaurateurs can’t be everywhere, so they have to train the entire staff to act as they would act: smiling, making people feel welcome, saying hello and thanks. That “thank you” is pretty critical.
In our part of the world, customers are just as apt to respond “thank you” right back to the restaurateur. Far too often, servers, bartenders and even managers respond with the strangely bland, “No problem.”
No problem? Was it a problem for you to take my money? Probably not. So why would you respond to a customer saying, “Thank you,” except to say, “You’re very welcome” or “It was our pleasure.” All too often in my town, “no problem” is the ambiguous response I get.
But I’ve been dining in New Orleans this week and, aside from enjoying remarkable food, I have had the pleasure of watching one of the peerless families of American dining at a New Orleans gem: Commander’s Palace.
I’ve dined here more than a few times and each waiter, busboy and bartender is trained to act as a host and hostess — saying hello and thank you to anyone crossing their path; stopping their work to lead people to the restrooms or to the stairs.
The Brennan family doesn’t need my praise in this, but every time I dine there I am astounded that the family is still so active within the restaurant.
Sunday, Lally Brennan was working the floor, not only to make sure everyone was content and sated, but to lead an impromptu dance line through the restaurant, coaxing diners to jump up and dance along behind the jazz band, waving their napkins in the air.
It was a silly, wonderful sight. And about five different people said thank you when we left.
Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based wine and spirits writer and consultant who for decades has happily educated the public about all things drink. He is one of only three people in the world to have earned the coveted titles of master sommelier and master of wine. He contributes a monthly wine column for The Star’s Food section.